Chasing your dreams with side projects

soosixty
DesignUp
Published in
6 min readMar 27, 2022

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Prolific creators from the DesignUp community on their labours of love

Photo by trojantry on Unsplash

“How we spend our days is how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour and that one, is what we are doing.”

Annie Dillard, The Writing Life

While navigating successfully (or otherwise) through our 9-to-5s, most of us have nurtured the wish, desire, dream of doing that one more thing: to find creative joy, 100% fulfillment and at times, bring to life that world-changing idea…

Side-projects are the labours of love that no one asked us to work on; that sometimes we don’t have all the skills to pull off; but they reflect our love of the craft, and our passion to carry it through — and most of the time, the need to carve out precious time to execute.

We spoke to some prolific creators who’ve been consistently making time for their side projects over the last few years to find out about the how and the when, and what it took, and what the projects gave back to them.

Kedar Nimkar, VP Design at Jupiter + founder of Audiogyan podcast

As early as 2016, Kedar noticed that there wasn’t any documentation of design in India. There were editorials, typically career journeys or processes, but not much around philosophies of design in India. Even if discourses on design in India existed, they were not accessible to mainstream audiences. He set out to fill that gap. Though a self-taught UX designer, Kedar chose to use audio, inspired by the maukik parampara (oral tradition) of India, where knowledge was transferred from the guru (teacher) to the shishya (student) through a series of dialogues. This one-man show by Kedar now stands at 235 episodes and 15000 hours of conversations on design in India.

For Kedar, his podcast guests are his biggest inspiration. A conversation with Prof Anirudha Joshi, IIT Bombay, started him thinking about the demand for designers in India versus supply, and how much new design still needs to be done, and thought about, in India. Another episode with Dr. BV Doshi, the renowned architect, continues to inspire him daily.

Kedar carves out time for Audiogyan throughout the week, around his job — focusing on research during weekdays, and the actual conversations with his guests and editing the episodes during weekends.

Nidhi Gupta, (GM of Cybersecurity, Springboard) & Gautam Rao (UX & sound designer) + founders of Stories Without Pictures podcast

Stories Without Pictures podcast creator Nidhi Gupta had always pursued storytelling for children throughout her life, and while making up bedtime stories for her daughter, she and collaborator Gautam Rao stumbled upon the idea of Stories Without Pictures, and the podcast was born just over a year ago in 2021.

They saw a need in the market for an immersive audio experience for children, with stories that were simple and customized for the audience, where parents would not feel guilty about their children’s device time. When Nidhi and Gautam started, they had a few stories of their own and the unique perspectives of Nidhi’s 5-year-old daughter Nandita, a key collaborator in all their stories.

As the podcast grew in popularity, listeners from the community also reached out with their own stories, their young listeners started doing the podcast cover art, and now a few of them also play characters in the stories. In the last year, Nidhi and Gautam have even been commissioned to do an audiobook, and features like Gift a Story evolved with requests for personalized stories coming in from the community.

For Nidhi, Stories Without Pictures have brought immense joy and re-affirmed her belief in the rich imaginations of children, while Gautam says that working on it during Covid “has not only raised spirits, but also made me add a kindness lens to everything I do.” “I have learnt that you might not be perfect the first time. When I try to do many things, then sometimes I fail the first time, but if I tried again and again it was much better. Like when I had to say the word for grasshopper in Hindi,” says young Nandita.

While Nidhi is able to maintain clear boundaries between office work and story-related work, it took a while for her and Gautam to work through their schedules and make time, like any other routine. “Now it mostly falls into place”, says Gautam. “I have less time to play on weekends when we have to record”, says Nandita.

Rasagy Sharma: Product Designer at Sundial + Creator of Mapping Patterns of Violence and Wise Fireflies of Data

“I try to do at least one meaningful side project a year,” says Rasagy. “It helps me to stay sane in these chaotic times”. One of his projects, a collaboration with The Polis Project, Mapping Patterns of Violence, highlights violence against journalism in India by mapping the different types of violence that journalists have faced in the last two years, such as FIRs, detention, physical assault, over 2019–2021.

“This project opened my eyes to the difficult job of doing journalism in a country that doesn’t value it (or a regime that actively silences dissent). It also reminded me that design can have a huge impact in communicating what is usually not noticed.”

Wise Fireflies of Data, or World Wisdom Map is another project that he made in late 2020 with some collaborators, to counter the hopeless and chaotic circumstances in the world at the time. It’s a map of life lessons (at least one from each country) and a data art piece that summarized what they learned.

Rasagy talks about the value of collaboration and how working with other passionate people has made his own work better. “Collaborating gives you a chance to work on newer domains.”

Dharmesh Ba: User Research at Udaan + Serial collaborator and Community builder, co-founder of Thousand Faces Club

Dharmesh started helping social entrepreneurs and small start-ups with design thinking, workshops and research in the early days of his career. “I saw how I could help people trying to solve real problems with my design skills,” he says.

Over time it became a key part of his life and very fulfilling as well, and even gave rise to a bunch of interesting opportunities in the industry. He found his niche a few years ago while doing fintech research for India, and with his D91 Labs co-founders, decided to openly share the research online. “I believe in an open knowledge culture. It’s my way of giving back to the community,” he says.

Dharmesh learnt a lot about social media communication and management while engaging with the online response to the D91 research. It helped him to become more crisp and clear in his own communication on social media. His latest venture in community building is Thousand Faces Club, a community for creators to make a living from their passion.

“The week is usually hectic and intense, so weekends are important for finding balance and protecting your sanity through something meaningful”, says Dharmesh, though sometimes it is a challenge managing expectations from friends and family.

Darshan Gajara: Head of Design at GraphCMS + Creator of Product Disrupt

That same drive for sharing knowledge and helping the community also drove Darshan to start his Product UX resource Product Disrupt. Darshan is a self-taught designer whose career has been built with his side projects. “These projects constantly bring new opportunities to me in unexpected ways”, he says.

“I created Product Disrupt to make my personal list of resources public, so anyone could teach themselves to design by following the finest resources available for free on the internet, but over time, it has grown into a comprehensive and curated design library useful to both beginners and seasoned (UX) designers. Someone recently called it a design bible!”

Darshan is working on a couple of other side projects as well, and finds that he needs to prioritize his time more carefully.

So, here’s what we learnt —

•Focus on what you feel deeply about (aka love)

•Start with small steps

•Block it off on your schedule, and hold that time sacred.

•Put importance on the skill, not the finished product. Put systems in place and celebrate staying on track. The goal will find you!

•Find collaborators who can work with you to keep the fire alive

•Be patient, it will take time, effort and you will at times miss the (self-given) deadline

•Be compassionate with yourself, remind yourself why you started, appreciate the movement you have made and restart from where you paused

•Have fun!

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